Interview with VGO Developers
Okay everybody, here is the anticipated Interview with some of the developers of Vietnam: Glory Obscured (AntiSocialKindaGuy and ScreamingCricket).
1: How did you get into game modding?
AntiSocial: When I was a kid, from about 6, I used to code on a ZX Spectrum from those library books you used to get that taught you how to code – and by taught, I mean you just copied the things wholesale from the book and made minor tweaks. I’ve always coded little games; I’ve never been one to code for the sake of code, or write tools, or engines, or anything like that – I’m interested in the player experience and code is a means to an end. As such, modding was a natural progression – you already have the engine, and you’re just adding an experience onto it – and it’s usually easier than writing on top of an existing engine, especially when you are younger (I started modding rather than playing in BASIC when I was about 12).
ScreamingCricket: I was fresh out of college, I had a degree in Media Arts and Animation with a focus in games, and I wanted to keep my skills up while I was looking for a job in the industry. I really enjoyed Generals and Zero Hour (I’ve always enjoyed the Command and Conquer games) and I was looking to join a mod that wasn’t a remake of a Command and Conquer game or one that didn’t have many of the same subject matter. There were only two Vietnam mods at the time (way back in 2004), a mod called Vietnam Reborn and one called Victor Charlie. Vietnam Reborn looked like it just started up and I wanted to be apart of something from the beginning, so I applied to join, was accepted and started cranking out models. Then like a month or two later, just about everyone on the team quit or just disappeared. Not wanting to waste all that work I did, I picked up the mantel and kept working while looking for reliable team members. I found AntiSocial about a year later, who applied to code when the old leader was running things and got turned down. Was we had a stable team of reliable people, we changed the name from Vietnam Reborn (which I never liked) to Vietnam | Glory Obscured.
2: What advice would you give to people interested in
AntiSocial: Just do it! Start small, and learn as you go. If you start small you are far, far more likely to see the fruits of your labour in a timeframe that means you don’t get bored after a month, and it’s also much more likely to be within a reasonable level. Also, for those who are fresh to making mods, choose an older engine – it’s staggeringly time consuming and overwhelmingly difficult to make anything on modern games, especially FPS games.
Start small, start simple, and don’t be an ideas guy – everybody is an ideas guy. Learn hard skills like code or modelling – something that will be of practical use – and prove that you can do it competently. When you have some real skills, join a small team doing a simple mod. Listen, learn, and don’t over-extend yourself.
ScreamingCricket: Mods are a huge undertaking, especially total conversion mods, requires a massive amount of commitment. Make sure you have a dedicated team of people that get along that all have a similar vision. Mods don’t get made over night, we’ve been working on VGO for over 6 and half years. It also helps to have a structure and hierarchy of people, that way there is always someone to make the final call; this prevents arguing and people leaving over a difference of opinion, at least for the most part. Also be sure to pick a subject matter that you are interested in that you wont be bored with after a few months.
3: Did you ever consider to try applying for a game
company instead of modding?
AntiSocial: I work for a games company; I have worked for the now defunct Bizarre Creations and EAUK in the past, and currently work at Ubisoft Toronto. I do modding because I enjoy being creative director and having full control over my baby – and after 6 years, it really is my baby.
ScreamingCricket: Actually, as mentioned before, modding was a way to keep my skills fresh while looking for a job in the games industry. I was a prop modeler at Tripwire Interactive for Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45; then I worked at Bioware Mythic as a Senior World artist on Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning; and now I’m currently at Carbine Studios as a Senior World Artist working on an unannounced MMO. While I did enjoy making props for games, I do enjoy creating the world players run around in much more.
4: Where did you learn the skills you used/are using to
make Vietnam Glory Obscured ?
AntiSocial: Entirely self-taught. Although I have a Masters in Computer Science, I started modding for C&C ZH a few years before I even began the course, and you don’t need to know how to program to write code in VGO - it’s actually all a very high level scripting language (in fact, it’s not really scripts either – config files would be the closest description that
comes to mind).
ScreamingCricket: I went to college to learn how to make games.
5: What motivated you to start making Vietnam Glory
AntiSocial: I was previously working on a World War I mod for ZH, The Great Trench War, which after about a year and a half sank due to difficulty getting good people and the primary art guy vanishing. I was looking for another ZH mod, and found VGO. While the administration of the mod was tremendously poor at that time, ScreamingCricket impressed me with the rate at which he could pump out textured models, and I figured him and I could produce something great if we worked together. Eventually, as expected, the less competent and the “talkers” vanished, leaving us to re-design the mod and build it from the ground up.
ScreamingCricket: As mentioned, I wanted to keep my skills up so I didn’t forget everything I learned, and this also served to build up my portfolio.
6: Who helped/is helping you make this mod, and what are
they doing to help?
AntiSocial: Traditionally it was primarily a team of three: myself, ScreamingCricket and Nuka5. We’ve had modellers, musicians and voice artists do contract work for us, or provide a few pieces of work and then leave. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a solid core team who can complete all the critical tasks on their own (even if it takes years…) and who care about the project. If you have people who have worked on it for years, they become invested, and they are far less likely to leave.
After some time, we also got some core testers; while the burn rate on testers is even greater than developers, we have had a handful worthy of mention that have produced several years of service (although many of them, too, are now gone). Good testers are often overlooked, but they are worth their weight in gold and can make or break your project; Pathfinder, Comedian and Jackseno are three that spring to mind as having contributed a great deal in terms of finding bugs but also identifying balance issues and providing important feedback on game mechanics. All of those mentioned in the games credits have, to my mind, contributed considerably to the mod.
ScreamingCricket: We’ve had many people come and go, but currently we have a small team of developers that have been there for most of the projects life cycle. I took on all the art tasks, such as modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, and shader effects. Some of my friends from college helped out for a time on modeling and texturing until they got a game job. I did some mapping as well, but that was mostly left to Nuka5; some of our beta testers had a go with mapping and actually made some great maps too and have been able to help out with making more maps, scripting, and fixing map related bugs. AntiSocialKindaGuy has been our master coder, doing everything from the ini editing, to map scripting, to writing the AI, to coding up a mod launcher for us, I’m sure he can give more detail. Aside from the small dev team, we have a dedicated group of beta testers that have been invaluable in helping us find and fix bugs. Some have also slid over into doing some dev work and doing some scripting grunt work for us. it also helps that they love the mod and play all the time. CBoidy put our particle effects for us with me making the textures for them, and I think for the Sage engine, they turned out really well. We’ve also had some great voice actors as well as some music people that come along that wrote a great musical score for us. We also even had some custom songs that were done that fit the Vietnam era. Our team may be small compared to some other big projects for Zero Hour, but I think it shows how much a small dedicated group of like minded people can accomplish if they know what they are doing.
7: What roadblocks or obstacles, if any, have you faced in creating Vietnam Glory Obscured so far?
AntiSocial: The development of any game is an endless series of roadblocks; modding avoids some challenges (such as financial and timeframe concerns) but brings about its own (particularly people management). SC has covered in depth the main two problems. While people management is what has caused the development time to be so long (a small team, where personal issues must always take precedence), the engine is what causes me anguish on a day to day basis.
It’s easy to complain about the engine, but it was designed for a specific purpose and was clearly developed with some tools that we do not have. The bottom line is the simplicity of the INI editing is both a blessing and a curse; it’s great for newcomers to get a game up quickly, but it’s tremendously restrictive as it was built to handle very specific things that cannot be changed. Had I access to the source, I could do an endless amount more (as well as fix some pretty nasty bugs such as fixing the pathfinding lag) – but it’s arguable whether I would have even began to mod the game without the INI files there to fiddle with as an incompetent 16 year old.
ScreamingCricket: The most obvious one I think is finding reliable people to help on the project. Since it’s a free modification and we can’t pay people to work on it and it’s done in our spare time, people end up lacking the motivation for how long something like this takes. Also reliability and commitment are major factors, I am lucky to have found people that have worked on it for so long. Thankfully we all get along and there is no team in fighting. There are often debates and arguments on how to balance something or whatever, but it’s only because our team is passionate about the mod and want to do whatever it takes to make it better. In the end the final decision is up to me or AntiSocial if something goes in or not. Thankfully there has never been an issue where someone left over a final decision; it makes it much easier when the entire team gets along.The other thing I can think of that has hindered us is the game engine itself. It’s very restrictive in what it can do, so it often leads to features being cut because it can’t be done. We’ve gotten very creative in how things work to make it appear to be something entirely new. The SDK tools aren’t the greatest either, I’m surprised we’ve been able to achieve some of the things we’ve done technically. We’ve pretty much implemented and optimized the mod as much as possible for a fun and smooth gameplay experience. It was a lot of work and a lot of time getting things to run well with the amount of things we have going on, but I think in the end it was worth it
8: What makes Vietnam Glory Obscured so different from
other mods out there for CnC?
AntiSocial: The gameplay is very different, and I’d like to think reasonably unique. It’s evolved over time from a game I would say was
relatively close to Sudden Strike in the Pegasus release, to something a lot more fluid in Hydra – we learned a lot from the Pegasus release, and what players found difficult to understand. We were never aiming for the mass market appeal of something like Shockwave – this was always going to be a lot slower and tactical than the original ZH - but we have improved and visually clarified the monetary system (it is now something closer to CoH than ZH), increased visual ranges, rebalanced infantry health and made many other improvements in order to improve the game experience for new and existing players alike.
We have added interesting gameplay mechanics where we are able, and where it is of critical importance to the setting; jungle is the main example, as we really wanted it to be a focus for strategy. Thus jungle will stealth infantry, it will provide bonuses to NVA troops, it can be destroyed and will regrow, and fires will spread through them. Another example is the concept of villages; we wanted to try and capture the fact that there were civilian populations that should not be harmed, and as such monetary punishments are exacted when the player damages civilian structures. This then presents the problem of clearing villages without heavy ordnance.
For the NVA, I really wanted to create a new experience; while it had to be toned down for the AI (and for player understanding, who were having difficulty getting to grips with it), the modular construction is novel and very different to the more traditional approach of the USA. This whole system had many iterations, but has finally settled on something we are happy with and that works in the engine. They were always going to be focused on traps, tunnels and vehicles, but I also wanted them to react slowly but cheaply; the idea was that they could produce large volumes of units cheaply, but were inflexible when it came to changing production – originally, the entire team was built around the automated modules that are now a much smaller part of their build strategy (although their build strategy still holds to this axiom).
If I to start over, I would do many things differently – and would redesign the USA around a slightly different mental model to differentiate them even further – but what we have I am very happy with. Our testers find it a great play experience once they got their heads around the play style, and hopefully those looking for something a bit different than the usual ZH gameplay will have a good time with it too.
ScreamingCricket: First and foremost we are an infantry focused mod, meaning infantry are your primary means of fighting and winning, all other units are there to support the infantry. We have a wide variety of infantry units that fill specific roles. We also have a huge focus on tactics and strategy, just because your opponent has a larger force doesn’t mean they will win, whoever has the superior tactics and strategy will win. Our mod isn’t about who can build more tanks faster than the other guy or who turtles better, I felt the RTS genre has been too focused on an arcade style game play and the strategy part was becoming non-existent. We have some gameplay features that set it apart from other mods for CnC that isn’t just limited to the concept of the infantry focused gameplay. We have redone the monetary system that was in ZH to something completely different. Combat is different not just because of the infantry focus, but because of our dynamic jungle system allowing units to hide and set up ambushes or burn sections of it down to deny the enemy cover; fire spreads and propagates to other jungle trees, burned down areas of the jungle actually regrow over time. We also include different gameplay types rather than the standard gameplay one would expect – for instance we have a type called Bombardment, which if you capture certain points on the map gives you control of a battleship or aircraft carrier. I could go on, but I don’t want to give away all the surprises.
Everyone, be sure to check out the new 2.0 release of VGO on Moddb, also named the Hydra Release. Hydra Release adds an auto-patch feature for later updates, and a new faction: the NVA.
Check it out on their Moddb page here.
Look at their official site/forums here.
Also, expect a review of 2.0 Release coming soon, as Mod Sentry expands into the CnC Universe.